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The Graying Shades Of Media A Corrupt Conundrum Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5518 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Since the days of the freedom movement Indian media has been recognised as patriotic and nationalist tool to provide unbiased news and build positive public debates. Mahatma Gandhi, The father of the Indian nation juggled his movement with the moral power of active journalism. Today, India with its over a billion population supports nearly 70,000 registered newspapers and over 450 Television channels. In the sphere of journalism, there are eminent Journalists in the country who are honoured and accepted as the moral guide in the Indian society. While the newspapers in Europe and America are losing their readership annually, the Indian print media is still going from strength to strength with huge circulations and greater marketing opportunities. The media is still considered to be the fourth important pillar after the judiciary, parliament and bureaucratic set-up in democratic India. Media is considered to be a repository of public trust for conveying information to public honestly. With the advent of technology the new dimension of internet has changed the way the news is shared and views are exchanged. The speed of travel of information has grown logarithmically and media has become more powerful than any time before to shape the minds and generation of opinions of the masses. Social media is developing as a pervasive tool to connect the society laterally which is affecting marketing strategies of the business houses and structuring political influences by the people in power or seeking power.

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Historically media has always taken the flak for favoring the more influential sections of society and has also been blamed to shade the news and views to suit the economic viability of the publishing houses. Political leanings and corporate influences on the editorials and selectivity in coverage of news is not hidden from the public but in recent years, malpractices in the Indian media has gone way beyond the corruption of individual journalists and media organizations. Unfortunately the information is planted and views are on sale for favors received in cash or kind in institutionalized and organized forms of corruption. Newspapers publishers and television channels owners do not shy away from receiving funds for publishing or broadcasting information in favor of particular individuals or corporate entities that is disguised as “news”. The plague of unethical commercial activities and market interests of media institutions disfigure the role they play in the shaping of public opinion and in upholding principles and norms of democracy.

II Understanding certain terms related to media

Paid media is the most traditional advertising in which a company pays for space or for a third party to promote its products. This form is thriving with emergence of more targeted cable TV, online-display placement, and other channels options for marketers expanding exponentially .Online video and search marketing is attracting greater interest .Paid media has too much of clutter with declining response rates and declining credibility.

Owned Media

Owned media, consists of catalogues, web sites, retail stores, alert programs and e-mail notifications of special offers etc on properties or channels owned by the company that uses them for marketing purposes. Owned Media do not offer guarantees and consumers have limited trust in this media.

Earned Media

“Earned media (or free media) refers to favorable publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising, as opposed to paid media, which refers to publicity gained through advertising.[1] Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows, letters to the editor, editorials, and polls on television and the Internet.” [1] “Earned media” is an old PR term that essentially meant getting your brand into free media rather than having to pay for it through advertising.

Social media

“Social media employ web- and mobile-based technologies to support interactive dialogue and “introduce substantial and pervasive changes to communication between organizations, communities, and individuals.” [1] Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological multi faceted and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content.”[2] I.e. Social media are social software which mediates human communication. When the technologies are in place, social media is ubiquitously accessible, and enabled by scalable communication techniques. In the year 2012, social media became one of the most powerful sources for news updates through platforms like Twitter and Face book.” [2] 

Sold Media

Paid and owned media are controlled by marketers touting their own products. For earned media, such marketers act as the initial catalyst for users’ responses. But in some cases, one marketer’s owned media become another marketer’s paid media-for instance, when an e-commerce retailer sells ad space on its Web site. This is termed as ‘sold media’ on an owned media whose traffic is so strong that other organizations place their content or e-commerce engines within that environment. [3] This is gaining more popularity as a promotional media on the web based sites as it gives eye ball attention to the interested clientele only as it is projected on the related web pages which the potential client of the product is visiting.

Hijacked Media

The same dramatic technological changes that have provided marketers with more (and more diverse) communications choices have also increased the risk that passionate consumers will voice their opinions in quicker, more visible, and much more damaging ways. Such ‘hijacked media’ are the opposite of earned media: an asset or campaign becomes hostage to consumers, other stakeholders, or activists who make negative allegations about a brand or product e.g. a prank online video of two employees contaminating sandwiches in Domino’s Pizza kitchen appeared on YouTube.


An advertorial is an advertisement in the form of an editorial. The term “advertorial” is a portmanteau of “advertisement” and “editorial.” Merriam-Webster dates the origin of the word to 1946.[1]In printed publications, the advertisement is usually written in the form of an objective article and designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. In television, the advertisement is similar to a short infomercial presentation of products or services. These can either be in the form of a television commercial or as a segment on a talk show or variety show. In radio, these can take the form of a radio commercial or a discussion between the announcer and representative. [4] 

Paid News

“Paid news or paid content are those articles in newspapers, magazines and the electronic

media, which indicate favourable conditions for the institution that has paid for it. The news

is much like an advertisement, but without the ‘ad tag’. This kind of news has been considered a serious malpractice since it deceives the citizens, not letting them know that the news is, in fact an advertisement. Secondly, the payment modes usually violate tax laws and election spending laws. More seriously, it has raised electoral concerns because the media has a direct influence on voters.” [5] 

The dynamic media jargon has its vocabulary changing every moment which in turn is not only changing the way consumers perceive and absorb marketing messages but will also force marketers to change their thinking about the way they allocate spending and organize operations. Different kinds of media are becoming more integrated. The sold media can catapult a marketer into a stream of contacts with users and members through owned-media hubs, where marketing companies can offer a more engaging experience, get consumers interested in products. New publishing models are finding their way in modern media as marketers are leaning on media providers for help by partnering with media publishers to create deeper marketing experiences for consumers and to obtain content and ad sales support. Computer maker Dell and automobile manufacturer Nissan, for example, worked with the Sundance Channel in United States to create a television talk show hosted by Elvis Costello to attract their target demographic with ads that seamlessly blended into the show’s content. Applications created on mobile phones are initiating tools that provide useful information. For example, eBay’s Red Laser generates a list of prices for products by merely scanning the barcode on mobile phone. Twitter and other blogging platforms are social media platforms to promote new products and promotions by leveraging its huge fan base.

III Accountability and responsibility in journalism

Good journalism flourishes where society respects and enforces the rule of law. International standards supply guarantees of free expression. But these standards also typically acknowledge certain legitimate grounds for the state’s restriction of free expression. [6] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, pronounces in Article 19 that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek,receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 29 then qualifies this right as:

“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedom of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society .” [7] 

The right to free expression often goes loggerheads with other competing interests. Sometimes there is no legal remedy for types of journalistic misconduct that can disappoint readers and viewers. A courtroom is often not the best place to resolve disputes about balance, fairness, and accuracy and there is always the risk that harsh judicial remedies, even those imposed when the underlying case involves journalistic misconduct, will inhibit the future free and open publication of controversial views. In such a scenario self-regulatory mechanisms offer a valuable alternative. [8] Most associations of journalists, and many individual news organizations, have adopted codes of ethics. Terms vary. Some codes are binding, and violation of a provision can lead to dismissal by an employer or expulsion from a professional journalism society. But most codes of ethics, instead, offer voluntary guidelines to help journalists make morally and professionally sound decisions. Codes thus encourage greater accountability to readers and viewers. A good example is the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) [9] , the largest voluntary association of U.S. news reporters and editors. Its code encourages journalists to abide by four core principles:

Seek truth and report it: Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Minimize harm: Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Act independently: Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know

Be accountable: Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

By its own terms, the SPJ code is a voluntary guide to ethical behavior. It states:”The code is intended not as a set of ‘rules’ but as a guide for ethical decision-making. [10] Similarly the Press Council of India, an autonomous body was set up under the Press Council Act, 1978. The Press Council of India has developed norms of journalistic conduct that cover the principles and ethics regarding journalism. The Press Council of India has also laid down guidelines on reporting of specific issues of public and national importance. In 1996, it drew up a set of guidelines that are particularly applicable to financial journalism. The Press Council of India has also issued guidelines on reporting of elections. [11] ‘Mint’ [12] has laid down a code of journalistic conduct for guiding its journalists in so much of details that these can be expanded in scope to be followed by the entire media to safeguard and uphold the values of journalism in the country.

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Journalists have to be honest fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information; ensuring accuracy, objectivity, balance and fairness. A Journalist should be free of any obligations, whether political or corporate. Speaking of corporations, there is no denying that Journalism and reporting like most other professions need significant capital inputs and sound business sense to survive. But, this is a profession where the stakes are much higher because it is a profession which has the power to create opinions and to shape a nation’s present and its future. Journalists must maintain dignity in expression and be sensitive while reporting on critical issues.

IV Mass media bias: Can it be avoided?

“Media bias is the bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of events and stories that are reported and how they are covered. The term “media bias” implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism, rather than the perspective of an individual journalist or article. The direction and degree of media bias in various countries is widely disputed.” [13] The phenomenon of political bias has been founded in the media along with the invention of printing press and historically media has always favored the more powerful social groups. Like newspapers, the broadcast media (radio and television) have been used as a mechanism for propaganda from their earliest days, a tendency made more pronounced by the initial ownership of broadcast spectrum by national governments. Although a process of media deregulation has placed the majority of the broadcast media in private hands, there still exists a strong government presence, or even monopoly, in the broadcast media of many countries across the globe. At the same time, the concentration of media in private hands, and frequently amongst a comparatively small number of individuals, has also led to accusations of media bias. [14] 

There are primarily three categories of bias in reporting of a news viz. ‘gate keeping bias’ which stops a news from appearing at all, ‘coverage bias’ which gives the various degrees of prominence to the news and ‘statement bias ‘which gives color to a news through opinionated coverage. [15] The following are the most commonly talked about biases:-

Support or attack a particular political party, candidate, or ideology.

Advertising bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please advertisers.

Corporate bias, when stories are selected or slanted to please corporate owners of media.

Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone.

Sensationalism, bias in favor of the exceptional over the ordinary, giving the impression that rare events, such as airplane crashes, are more common than common events, such as automobile crashes.

Favors or attacks on a particular race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or ethnic group. [16] 

The bias of the mass media may be sited due to its economic structural views which get a leaning to a political view and in turn takes the form of propaganda. The corporate ownership of media houses is bound to have biases in the areas where their profitability is affected. There is another demand-driven theory of mass media bias. If readers and viewers have prior views on the current state of affairs and are uncertain about the quality of the information about it being provided by media outlets, then the latter have an incentive to slant stories towards their customers’ prior beliefs, in order to build and keep a reputation for high-quality journalism. The reason for this is that rational agents would tend to believe that pieces of information that go against their prior beliefs in fact originate from low-quality news providers. According to a a ‘behavioral model’ which is built around the assumption that readers and viewers hold beliefs that they would like to see confirmed by news providers. When news customers share common beliefs, profit-maximizing media outlets find it optimal to select and/or frame stories in order to pander to those beliefs. [17] In another model “media bias arises because the media cannot tell ‘the whole truth’ but are restricted to simple messages, such as political endorsements. In this setting, media bias arises because biased media are more informative; people with a certain political bias prefer media with a similar bias because they can more trust their advice on what actions to take.” [18] 

“Not all accusations of bias are political. Science writers accuse the entertainment media of anti-science bias. Television programs such as The X-Files promote superstition.” [19] In contrast, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is funded by businesses, accuses the media of being biased in favor of science and against business interests, and of credulously reporting science that purports to show that greenhouse gasses cause global warming. [20] 

There has been a number of suggestions and efforts to straighten the biases during media coverage. A technique used to avoid bias is the “point/counterpoint” or “round table”, an adversarial format in which representatives of opposing views comment on an issue. This approach theoretically allows diverse views to appear in the media. However, the person organizing the report still has the responsibility to choose people who really represent the breadth of opinion, to ask them non-prejudicial questions, and to edit or arbitrate their comments fairly. [21] 

Another technique used to avoid bias is disclosure of affiliations that may be considered a possible conflict of interest. This is especially apparent when a news organization is reporting a story with some relevancy to the news organization itself or to its ownership individuals or conglomerate. Often this disclosure is mandated by the laws or regulations pertaining to stocks and securities. Commentators on news stories involving stocks are often required to disclose any ownership interest in those corporations or in its competitors. Same holds good during reporting of run up to elections when media covers stories and opinions through news columns and editorials as well publish advertisements related to contesting candidates and propaganda of the political parties.

V Paid news: Pernicious dimension of media

Media bias has always been a detrimental phenomenon affecting all forms of media that plagues society due to financial selfishness and vested interests of the journalists and the corporate houses controlling the strings of various sections of media. But in the recent years this bias is falling in the vicious trap of corruption whereby the news has started to have a price tag and advertorials are passed as news to unsuspecting readers and viewers. It has become pervasive, structured and highly organized and in the process, is undermining democracy in India. Media has moral responsibility to keep the news objective, fair and neutral. A clear distinction between information and opinion from advertisements that are paid for by corporate entities, governments, organizations or individuals has to be maintained at all times. The reader should be able to distinguish between news reports and advertisements/advertorials and the boundary between the two should never blur.

But recently the paid news is becoming a deep-seated ailment which has become “organized” and is not restricted to only journalists, managers and owners of media companies but also involve advertising agencies and public relations firms. Owners and editors of media companies ideally should erect a firewall between journalists or content creators/producers, on the one hand, and buyers and sellers of advertising space, on the other but in some newspapers, magazines and television channels, this wall has too many convenient orifices which leads to the most common problem of making an attempt to manipulate public debate through the purchase of favorable editorial space and the purchase of advertising space .Owners of media organizations compel themselves to give favorable information about certain advertisers and block unfavorable information against them due to their financial relationships, including share-holdings, with them. An outgoing chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, in his farewell speech, referred to the existence of the ‘anchor investor’. Therefore, this problem, in a different sense, though it cannot be termed as ‘paid news’, also existed in the sphere of business journalism. Such trends have been discernible in sections of the Indian media for some years now in spite of press council of India having drawn a set of guidelines in 1996 which are particularly applicable to financial journalists on the behest of the regulator of the country’s capital markets, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).Disclosure of private treaties between media companies and other corporate entities need to be mandatory to safeguard the interests of investors.

“This practice(paid news) has started in media after India adopted free-economy policy. Corporates and media came closer and marketing managers became stronger than the editor of a media establishment. ..Media (the only hope for the common man) is supposed to be advocating for the deprived sections of society. But media itself has become an integral part of consumerism and corporate system. [22] “The explosive growth in the media in the country had highlighted the fact that the Fourth Estate is the only one among the pillars of democracy that has an identifiable commercial and explicitly for-profit persona. While the primary professional duty of media organizations is to their readership to keep them informed and appraised with news, views and ideas, the commercial logic brings in a new set of stakeholders in the form of the shareholders of these companies.” [23] 

The paid news has proliferated more due to diminution of the role and the status of editors in media organizations and the reduced freedom of journalists under the Working Journalists Act. Senior journalists prefer to work with their employers under fixed term contracts which erode their protection otherwise accorded to them under the provisions of the Act. “Until the 1970s and the 1980s, many editors would not brook any “interference” from the management of the company they would be employed by – the number of such editors started dwindling as more and more senior journalists started acceding to every whim of their managers and employers instead of their editors. With managers playing a more influential role in the selection and presentation of news, it was not surprising that the importance of the news started getting determined by the revenues that would be generated for the media company.” [24] The journalist faces an ethical dilemma which begins with the inherent conflict between the individual’s role as a journalist providing independent information to the public and his or her employer’s quest for profit. The poor wages of journalists especially those who work in non-urban areas also force them to double up as advertising agents working on commissions to earn their livelihood.

The paid news acquires a completely new complexity of staggering proportion with the corporatization of media houses and large media houses not only own print media but also own electronic media and radio waves. These media houses offer packages for the projection of certain individuals in all the forms of media that they own and control. This distorts parliamentary democracy in multiple ways: (a) (the) media ceases to be objective and, therefore, distorts public perception; (b) it distorts the electoral political choices of the people by providing undue advantage to those candidates/political parties who are able to afford these packages, (c) it manipulates democracy, negating it completely by denying or by not providing equal access to those who cannot afford to indulge in such malpractices thereby breaching the provisions of the Constitution of India, and (d) it demeans the idea and essence of journalism itself. [25] 

“Paid news phenomenon represents a “fatal combination” of three “Ms”, namely, the media, money and mafia that has subverted free and fair elections. He said that earlier, politicians used to hire musclemen with huge amounts of money and train them in booth rigging. “Now…candidates are training media pens instead of mafia guns to ‘rig’ the minds of people with constant opinion bombarding.” [26] “The new aspect of this phenomenon of “paid news”as seen in parliament elections in 2009 is that there was widespread participation by political parties in this process. The integration and assimilation of leading political parties and corporate public relations bodies in this racket is also unique to the elections of 2009.” [27] The Election Commission noted during the election process that “the more disturbing phenomenon recently emerging and which is causing serious concern to the commission is the latest complaint to the Commission that some of the newspapers have even offered packages at hefty sums, offering three types of services – one, projecting the image of a political party or a candidate in a positive manner; two, giving negative publicity to the rival party or candidate. The rates of such packages vary, depending upon the standing and circulation of the newspaper in the area covered by the constituency.The regional media councils have been rising to address the problem by repeatedly urging the journalists to desist from the temptation of “We strongly believe that the practice of putting out advertising as news is a grave journalistic malpractice. Moreover the trend threatens the foundation of journalism by eroding public faith in the credibility and impartiality of news reporting. It also vitiated the poll process and prevented a fair election, since richer candidates who could pay for their publicity had a clear advantage.” [28] A prominent journalist took a poke shot on vernacular press, “The vernacular media may be feeling cocky, having pulled themselves out of physical poverty under their own steam, but they have yet to learn how to deal firmly and decisively with another kind of poverty – that of the professional, ethical kind” [29] .

The society has woken up to the media malpractices and the reflection is seen in the films and documentaries. Film director Shri Ram Gopal Verma made a movie in Feb 2010 named “Rann” dealing with the topic of corruption in the media. Even a documentary titled ‘Advertorial: Selling News or Products?’ was produced by an eminent media critic and academic Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan.Even in a survey conducted by the Readers’ Digest in March 2010, called the Trust Survey, 750 Indians were asked to rank the short-listed individuals belonging to different professions. Journalists were ranked 30 out of the 40 professionals listed and were placed next only to barbers and bus drivers. [30] Edelman, an independent public relations firm, in its 2010 Trust Barometer Survey (conducted in 22 countries worldwide, including India and six other countries in the Asia-Pacific region) stated that the Indian media has been losing its credibility and trust among the people. The study, which sampled 1,575 people in the 25-64 age group and 200 opinion leaders in India, noticed a sharp drop in trust over the past two years in television news in India. However, newspapers are ranked higher than other media in terms of credible news with people trusting newspapers more than any other medium: 38 per cent of the Indians polled trusted radio and television, while


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